The 3 Main Types of Vertical Gardening

Vertical gardens are a fantastic addition to any outdoor or indoor space and have rapidly risen in popularity over the last few years. From home gardens to office buildings and even industrial farms, vertical gardens can be found almost everywhere.

Nowadays, there are countless ways to create your very own vertical garden at home. From simple arrays of recycled plastic bottles to complex, tech-heavy hydroponic towers, there is something for every skill level and budget. There are three main types of vertical gardening systems:

  • Green walls (also known as ‘living walls) are vertical structures constructed against flat surfaces, like garden walls, to create a colorful facade
  • Tiers of vertically stacked containers that allow plants to be grown above one another instead of horizontally along the ground
  • Tower systems commonly consist of pre-built units that allow plants to be grown upwards (often utilizing aeroponics) around a central column.

Of course, within each of the three main types of vertical gardens, there is a multitude of techniques and styles. If you aren’t sure which is the best vertical gardening system for you, this article will give you all the information you need to decide.

Green ‘living’ walls

Green walls are created when plants, flowers, or mosses are grown against a flat structure like a wall, fence, or other facades to build an impressive, ‘living’ surface. They are most commonly found in office buildings and city-scapes, but can also make an excellent addition to your home too.

An example of a living wall system

As gardens become increasingly smaller, particularly in urban spaces, making use of every available surface matters. Green walls allow you to feel closely connected with nature, covering otherwise baron wall space with an abundance of colorful herbs, grasses, moss, ferns, or even fruits.

What are the main types of green walls?

There are three main types of green walls: direct greening, indirect greening, and living wall. All of them share the same purpose of covering the target surface with vegetation. Doing so can be a simple case of training ground-planted climbers (commonly seen at home), or as complex as engineered modules complete with their own irrigation systems (more common within office buildings).

TypeSummaryDIY skill
Direct greeningPlanting climbers in the ground and training them up a wall. Easy
Indirect greeningInstalling structures like a trellis or wire against a wall to grow climbers against. Medium
Living wall systemsConstructed using planter boxes or felt. Plants are planted directly into the structure. Medium

1. Direct greening

Direct Greening is a system that uses self-attaching climbers (like climbers and wall shrubs), usually planted in the ground, to train plants upwards to cover the target surface.

These are the most common form of green walls seen in people’s homes. Think wisteria or campsis covering the side of a house or climbing over a garden wall. Fruit trees can also be trained as espaliers or fans.

Direct greening: an apple tree trained up a wall (known as espaliers)

Direct greening is the simplest and most traditional way of creating a green wall in your own home. However, they require access to a large surface and are usually planted directly into the ground. It may not be suitable if you have a small urban garden or just a small balcony.

2. Indirect greening

Indirect greening is similar to direct greening. The key difference is that it uses some form of engineered structure, like a trellis or wiring, which plants use to climb. The structure should also be designed to maintain airflow between the wall and the plant.

Indirect greening requires a little more DIY skill to pull off but should be well within the reach of most individuals. Larger-scale projects may require additional support and expertise (such as covering the entire side of your house).

3. Living wall systems

A ‘living’ wall system uses a cladding made of tiered planter boxes or felt that is placed against the target surface to allow plants to be placed directly without needing to reach the ground. Plants don’t need to be climbers as they are chosen to fill only the isolated space they are placed in.

An example of a large living wall system (in an office building)

Green ‘living’ wall systems have risen in popularity in recent years and are frequently seen within commercial office spaces. Although more complex to create, a living wall can make an excellent addition to your garden, or a suitable indoor space. They are certainly considered ‘trendy’, particularly for modern gardens.

What are the benefits of a green wall?

Creating your own green wall at home can help to purify the air you breathe, reduce noise by absorbing soundwaves and help you feel more connected to nature. Plus, they just look awesome. I’ve written a full article on the benefits of vertical gardening that covers some of them. However, I’ll include a few more specific ones below:

  • Living green walls help to purify the air in your home
  • They can help to reduce the ambient temperature in summer
  • They help to absorb sound and make gardens or indoor spaces quieter
  • Living walls create a sense of well-being and connection to nature
  • They’re perfect for covering up otherwise empty surfaces
  • They can reduce stress
  • They’re something to show off in your home or garden

Vertical container systems

Stacked or hanging garden systems consist of multiple tiers of containers lined above one another so that plants can grow upwards, instead of outwards along the ground. This type of vertical garden system is arguably the most popular and diverse as it can be created out of almost anything, from planter boxes to recycled soda bottles.

They can be freestanding, or constructed against a wall/fence. They are a popular way of growing herbs and vegetables in small spaces, requiring little soil and efficiently using resources like water and fertilizers do.

How do vertical garden container systems work?

Typically, this method involves creating vertical tiers of containers, one on top of the other. While it’s not a requirement, more advanced systems tend to be constructed to allow water to be shared between each container, with watering occurring from the top tier and draining through subsequent lower tiers. This helps to reduce the amount of water needed.

The beauty of this type of vertical garden is that you can make them from just about anything, including recycled soda bottles.

This makes stacked or hanging vertical gardens one of the most common and popular choices for home gardens. This also means that this vertical garden can be cheaper and easier to make than most other systems.

3 popular vertical garden container ideas

There are hundreds of ways to create this type of vertical garden at home and you can do so using just about any material you can think of.

1. Create a vertical garden using old wooden pallets

Image credit: Lulu and Isabelle

Ever wondered what you can do with those old pallets stacked up at the end of the garden? Well, they make the perfect structure to create a vertical garden. If you don’t have any lying around they are really easy to get hold of. Pallets allow plants to be stacked above each other in neat, pre-made rows. Choosing a mix of trailing and floral plants works best.

2. Create a vertical garden using recycled plastic bottles

Another cheap and easy way to create a vertical garden at home is by using recycled plastic bottles. One or two-liter soda bottles work great. Simply cut them in half, hang the ends upside down and attach them to a wooden structure like a fence or trellis. You can also use string to hand them in vertical lines. Or, if you prefer, turn the bottles sideways and cut a hole in one of the sides to create a horizontal container.

The great thing about bottles is that they already have a hole in the neck, which when turned upside down, allows water to trickle through to the tier below. This type of vertical garden is great for growing herbs.

3. Create a pocket/planter bag vertical garden

One of the cheapest and easiest vertical garden systems to create at home is a hanging planter or pocket bag. These can be purchased from most reputable garden centers and online. All you need to do is find a suitable flat surface like a garden fence or wall and simply hand the pocket-filled cladding over it. They’re best for growing herbs, lettuce, and other leafy greens. You can also grow some small florals to add a splash of color in spring.

There is a tonne of other ways to build a vertical garden container system. I’ll write a dedicated blog post about this very soon.

Tower garden systems

A tower garden is a self-contained vertical growing system that uses special techniques like aeroponics to grow plants up a central column with little to no soil.

Being a bit of a tech nerd they are – by far – the favorite part of my smart garden. A tower system is futuristic in a way that you don’t get from any other type of gardening. They’re sleek, hyper-efficient, and clean. It feels like you are growing plants in space.

There are plenty of other providers, but Tower Garden has a great explainer video.

How do tower gardens work?

If you watch the video above from Tower Garden (one of the most reputable providers of these types of systems) then you’ll know pretty much everything you need to about tower gardening.

Tower gardens are self-contained systems that use advanced aeroponic techniques to grow plants much more efficiently than if they were in the ground. A nutrient-rich solution is continually pumped through the system from the reservoir and up the tower before trickling down again, passing through the plant’s roots. This method means plants are kept well-fed and oxygenated and there is very little waste.

Illustration credit: Hydrogarden Geek

Tower garden systems like this do require electricity to function because of the small pump in the reservoir. The amount of electricity used by tower gardens varies, but most systems use between 200-300 watts per day.

What exactly are hydroponics and aeroponics?

Hydroponics and aeroponics are simply fancy names given to describe two different systems of nutrient delivery. The term hydroponics is a method of growing plants using minimal soil and in a water-based, nutrient-rich solution. There are a total of six different methods, of which aeroponics is one. As you may guess from the name, aeroponics suspends plants in the air exposing their roots directly to a solution that is full of nutrients. Aeroponics uses no soil, no pesticides and uses very little water.

What are the main benefits of tower garden systems?

Tower gardens have many benefits that mainly equate to you being able to grow more plants faster and in a smaller surface area. It’s not uncommon for a tower system to be suitable for growing between 50-70 plants in 4 square feet of space.

I’ve listed below some of the main benefits of a tower garden:

  1. Grow much more food in a much smaller space
  2. Recycle water and nutrients to drastically reduce waste by up to 90%
  3. Minimal upkeep with no weeding required
  4. Faster growing times with larger yields
  5. Much easier to harvest
  6. Greater protection against ground-based pests
  7. Much cleaner with minimal to no soil used
  8. Tower gardens can easily be used indoors year-round
Image credit: Tower Garden

Read more benefits of vertical gardening in my dedicated post.

What about the disadvantages of tower gardens?

The principal disadvantage of tower gardens is the price. You can pay anywhere between $150 to $1000 for a single tower puts a lot of people off purchasing one. Additionally, some cheaper systems can be noisy in an enclosed environment. You also need to be mindful of power outages as this will prevent the pump from working, meaning your plants won’t get any water or nutrients until the power is restored.

Can you use a tower garden indoors?

Tower gardens can be easily used indoors year-round. Each system is made of a self-contained unit that is suitable to be placed in any indoor location. Because there is little to no soil, and no need to water the system manually, there is no risk of creating a mess of water splashes.


Vertical gardening has something for everyone. Whether you are looking to create a new, vibrant facade with a living wall or simply grow food more efficiently in a small space, there is a system that will work for you. If you’re new to vertical gardening, my advice is to start small and work your way up. Create a vertical container garden yourself out of wooden pallets or recycled bottles – have some fun with it and see where it leads you.

When you’re ready to graduate to larger, more advanced systems and techniques buying a tower garden is a great next step.

There you have it. My overview of the three types of vertical gardening systems. For a more in-depth review of vertical gardening, make sure you check out my ultimate vertical gardening overview.

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William, an experienced consultant and passionate advocate for technology and sustainability, is the founder of Smarter Home Gardens. William's journey into gardening began with the purchase of his first home, which came with a small backyard garden. Despite initial challenges brought about by limited space, soil, and sunlight, William's determination to create a vibrant garden led him to research and experiment with innovative gardening technologies and sustainable practices. Driven by his lifelong enthusiasm for technology and sustainability, William explored various gardening methods, including vertical gardening, hydroponics, companion gardening, and composting. Through these efforts, he realized that it was possible to combine his passions with his newfound love for gardening. Smarter Home Gardens was born out of William's desire to share his research and experiences with others, helping them create smarter gardens that leverage cutting-edge technology and contribute to a more nature-positive world. The blog offers in-depth articles on innovative gardening technologies and methods, helpful 'how-to' guides, reviews of the latest gardening technology, and research on cost-effective garden maintenance solutions. William's commitment to sustainable and technologically-driven gardening has made him a trusted voice in the field. His enthusiasm for creating gardens that work with the planet, rather than against it, is evident in every post he shares on Smarter Home Gardens. Through the blog, William hopes to engage with a wider audience, encouraging others to join him on this exciting journey towards smarter, more sustainable gardens.

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